Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play, today… Look at me, I can be… A superstar…because the scouts are in the bleachers. Wait, that’s not quite what John Fogerty was singing about. And definitely not at 10 or 12 years old. But that’s exactly what’s playing out on basketball courts, hockey rinks, baseball and soccer and lacrosse fields across America. You name the sport, and kids as young as fifth grade are being scouted to be the next LeBron James or David Beckham or Sid Crosby, the next Brittney Griner or Hope Solo or Nastia Luikin. There’s money in it, not just for the kid and the family, or the Hollywood-caliber agent, but for the coaches that bring these kids to the elite high school team, the elite college team and so on, until and if he makes the pros. Witness yesterday’s article on the front page of the New York Times, adjacent to the latest presidential election poll and the strife in Syria (Greece, Egypt, you fill in the blank). Middle-school kids are being scouted as vigorously—maybe even more so than high school recruits because there are no rules about how much you can harass these families. Who ever thought this would be an issue? We wrote about the increasingly competitive arena of youth sports more than two years ago and clearly the situation is only getting worse.
Of course, we’re on the eve of the NBA draft Thursday night, during which everyone will debate the talents of the NCAA champs—the University of Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to name the top two of a starting freshmen lineup—and whether or not they should be staying in college. If it weren’t for the scouts and the agents and the handlers, maybe these kids would be getting an education instead of attempting to play a professional sport that many of them won’t even have much of a chance of succeeding at.
As a parent of three young athletes, I love youth sports. I love that they’re healthy and fit and learning teamwork and it’s even been a boon to my social life. They’re all pretty decent players—and it keeps them out of trouble and off the xBox, compared to the digital hours their peers log. Are they being scouted? Um, probably not. And neither is your kid. Nor should they be made to feel less adequate because other kids are viewed as sports commodities. The truth is, no one knows who will develop into a varsity or college athlete and who will stop growing and become just, God forbid, average. Are you with me on this? Let’s return youth sports to the days when “put me in coach” meant “I want to have fun” not “give me a scholarship.”